Hornbeak student enrolls to study behind bars in Lipscomb course
Posted: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 10:44 am
The Messenger 12.03.08
It’s unusual for college students to be distracted during class with the sounds of loud door alarms, keys rattling or loud chatter from nearby prison guards, but that’s what class is like for 12 Lipscomb students who have enrolled in a unique course at Lipscomb University in Nashville.
Laura Lake Smith’s art appreciation class not only takes place in the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, but half the students are inmates.
Once a week this semester, Obion County Central High School graduate Rachel Roberson will experience a world little known to non-offenders — except in the movies — and will develop a personal relationship with 15 women living in the prison.
“It is truly an honor to be teaching in the LIFE (Lipscomb Initiative for Education) program,” said Ms. Smith, one of several teachers who have taught in the prison, bringing literature, ethics and judicial process to the inmates.
“If more professors knew the rewards of it, we might have a waiting list for those wanting to teach. The program is beneficial and enriching in so many ways for the women inside and for our own Lipscomb students. It is wonderful to see us all become a family, as well as a cohort in learning,” she added.
The inmates benefit not only by expanding their minds, but by earning college credit, a unique advantage in the local area. The inmates’ tuition is paid through individual contributions. Benefactors pay $450 per inmate to cover tuition and books.
Despite the fact that they won’t have a complete degree, inmates who opt to take all six offered courses will end up with 18 hours of standard liberal arts credits they can transfer to a university, better self-confidence, expanded life experience and good study habits.
“I believe that all education programs encourage an individual to reach his or her potential and help break the cycle of recidivism,” said Sharmilla Patel, director of education for the Tennessee Department of Correction. “This program at Lipscomb University gives the incarcerated a second chance toward becoming productive citizens.”
“I think this class has opened my eyes to seeing how strong and how wonderful these women at the prison are. I love going to class and learning with them and the teacher makes learning really fun,” said Kendall Shaw, a senior and family and consumer science major at Lipscomb.
That enthusiastic attitude made it easy for Richard Goode, professor of the history, politics and philosophy department at Lipscomb and developer of the program, and for corrections officials to recruit students for the inaugural cohort.
The first class had only 15 spots for inmates at the prison, but more than 100 women expressed interest in the class at the initial information meeting, according to Connie Seabrooks, principal at the Tennessee Prison for Women.
“This program honors the commitment of Lipscomb University to integrate Christian faith and practice with academic excellence,” Goode said. “Instead of a situation where one side gives and the other side takes, these classes are dynamic communities of inquiry and interaction — higher education at its best.”
“One of the things that tends to happen in our criminal justice system is that the inmates become dehumanized,” he continued. “We never see the inmates, so we develop certain perceptions about them, most of which are false. When we all get in a room together, it humanizes the situation.”
When entering the classroom, the traditional students bring only their books, their car keys and most likely a few pre-conceived notions about what the prisoners are like.
But in only the first few classes, many of those perceptions have been proven false and were abandoned, Goode said.
For more information about the LIFE program or to contribute to the scholarships for the Tennessee Prison for Women inmates, write or send a check payable to Lipscomb University to Dr. Richard Goode, Lipscomb University, 3901 Granny White Pike, Nashville, TN 37204.
art appreciation class, Laura Lake Smith, Lipscomb University, Obion County Central High School graduate Rachel Roberson, Tennessee Prison for Women